Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Jesu: Pale Sketches Demixed - Pale Sketcher

Jesu: Pale Sketches Demixed

Pale Sketcher
Ghostly International.

SCQ Rating: 79%

Few artists working today have maintained their inherent enigma while being as prolific as Justin K. Broadrick. You’d think the man responsible for Godflesh, Final and Jesu – not to mention significant roles in Napalm Death and a bunch of side-projects – would be easier to decode as he enters the third decade of his recording career, but you’d be wrong. With his last high-profile release, Jesu’s Opiate Sun, it appeared as though Broadrick was abandoning his recent electronic flirtations in favour of old-school sludge-metal. Like so many other left-turns in his career, Broadrick double-backs into digital experimentation again with Pale Sketcher, a guise born to “demix” tracks from his 2007 Jesu release called (wait for it…) Pale Sketches Demixed.

Now for fans of beat-laced Broadrick (think Lifeline EP or Why Are We Not Perfect EP), Jesu: Pale Sketches Demixed warrants immediate welcoming but, make no mistake, these aren’t typical Jesu tunes. ‘Can I Go Now’ may carry the over-arching melody and gauzy synths to deserve inclusion on Why Are We Not Perfect EP, but its execution is far dreamier, its vocals muffled androgynously behind the syrupy keys. As a new chapter to an unpredictable catalog, Pale Sketcher finds Broadrick’s electronic capabilities undergoing an evolution, albeit one viewed in soft focus. How else to describe the plush soundscapes that oscillate the percolating dub of ‘Plans That Fade’, that forebode under chiming piano on ‘Don’t Dream It’? Rough-edged beats help keep these pastoral hymns somewhat gritty; when used delicately, they help pace a peaceful solitude (‘The Playgrounds Are Empty’) but, when amped up, Broadrick’s beats create an aural space you’d prefer not to be alone in (‘Wash It All Away’).

That we hardly notice Broadrick’s absence as a vocalist might be an indicator of one of Jesu: Pale Sketches’ great strengths. These compositions don’t feel lacking or in particular need of a vocal guide. And when he does turn up nearly effects-free on the slightly industrial ‘Supple Hope’, it briefly steals us from Pale Sketcher’s universal, language-free headspace. For a moment, it feels like a Jesu record and, while this collection unifies the work of Jesu and Pale Sketcher (thereby deeming the idea of distinguishing them sorta pointless), the majority of these songs speak out to listeners from a different plane. Broadrick still uses a hammer to drive home a song’s emotional value but, in these electronic surroundings, his impact lends a gentle nudge.

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